GRACE'S MUSINGS: The (in)visible woman

It’s the weirdest thing, that feeling of invisibility that can assail us in midlife: the sense that we’re being talked over, brushed aside or no longer taken seriously. We feel ignored in a crowd, go unserved at the bar. No one looks twice at us in the street. These micro-insults can add up to erode our hard-earned sense of self. So what do we do?

In the private sphere, we’re still very much solid, visible and three-dimensional. It’s just our public stock that feels like it’s plummeting. It’s known as Invisible Woman Syndrome for a reason. At the half-century mark, men are considered to be at the height of their professional lives: viewed as accomplished and experienced, they’re leading companies, at the top of their game. Women, meanwhile, whose stock in trade is still assumed to be their physical appearance, can feel like they’re desperately trying to turn back the tide. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Some of it is about changing the way you think, realising there’s much that is wonderful about midlife. Ageing is a privilege – after all, what’s the alternative? A lot of the rubbish that comes with getting older is external, while the good stuff is within. By external, I mean not just the pressure to book in for “miracle” fillers to deal with our wrinkles, but also the attitudes of those around us. Internally, we grow in wisdom, our levels of contentment often increase – and our self-esteem rockets as a result. It’s all about how we see ourselves.

For those of us who have considered cosmetic surgery as a way of dealing with the external effects of ageing, there’s some fascinating research out there. A recent study by Dr Shelley J Eriksen, published in The International Journal of Aging and Human Development, has some intriguing insights into how society’s pressures, alongside our personal choices, intersect with perceptions of beauty and confidence as we age. The study tested whether women’s use of cosmetic surgery would help with their feelings about body image, self-esteem and attitudes towards ageing.

According to the results, those who chose not to undergo cosmetic surgery experienced a notable increase in self-esteem as they aged. Which just serves to highlight the transformative power of embracing our natural appearance, and rejecting the idea that external intervention is necessary to maintain our beauty. As these women “gracefully” aged, their self-esteem grew stronger, suggesting that a profound sense of self-acceptance can counteract the negative effects felt within a society that promotes unrealistic ideals of beauty.

The women who did opt for cosmetic surgery, however, experienced diminishing levels of body satisfaction as they aged. This raises big questions about the psychological impact of beauty procedures and suggests that the initial positivity we feel afterwards may only be short-lived. That makes total sense to me. We shouldn’t assume that altering our appearance through surgery will necessarily lead to sustained happiness or feelings of improved self-worth in the long term.

Interestingly, we’re increasingly seeing a shift in attitude on this among prominent women in the entertainment industry. Sharon Stone, Julianne Moore, Viola Davis and Jodie Foster are all embracing the natural signs of ageing with authenticity and grace. Emma Thompson, meanwhile, has spoken out about the growing popularity of cosmetic procedures, calling it a “manifestation of shared madness”. “Why would you do that to yourself? I simply don’t understand,” she said.

Brooke Shields is of a similar mind. “I can’t say I love wrinkles, because that would be, like, a lie. But what I will say is that I have earned them, and they’re from smiling, so I don’t want to eradicate everything that shows my maturity, my growth, and who I am today.” 

These women, like all of you, are challenging the established norms and sending a powerful signal about how authentic beauty can transcend the strictures of age. It’s not about youth or the absence of imperfections. Beauty emanates from an inner sense of confidence and self-worth. And that’s what makes you visible.

DrEriksen’s research underlines just how empowering it has been for the women in her study to say no to cosmetic interventions, and the positive impact self-acceptance has had on their confidence as they age. It’s a more compassionate approach to beauty, one that values our individual journey and honours our authenticity. And it’s a conversation we should be having more often within our community.

Let’s talk about the beauty that comes from accepting ourselves as we are. And let’s look at our journey through a positive lens. It’s only that way that we’ll see ourselves more clearly – and cease to be invisible to others.

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